Exactly 60 years ago, Bently Allen received a student teaching assignment in Paris.
Allen, who was attending college at what is now the University of Central Arkansas, had never heard of the town, much less knew where it was located.
“They sent student teachers out and asked where they wanted to go,” Allen said. “I said anywhere except Little Rock and North Little Rock, I had my fill of that; I worked down there in the summer, and so they called me in the next day and asked, ‘How about going to Paris?’
“And I said, ‘Where is it?’”
But ever since he arrived in the Logan County hamlet, Allen immediately considered Paris his newfound home.
Now retired, Allen — who will turn 84 next month — spent 40 years teaching primarily mathematics and nearly 25 years as a coach. But he’s still very active in the community.
A big sports fan from his childhood days, Allen also supports the athletic programs at Paris High School, especially the volleyball program. He and his wife, Carolyn, have attended numerous matches played by the Lady Eagles.
They especially enjoyed this past week, when Paris hosted the 3A State Tournament. On Saturday, the Lady Eagles won their fourth consecutive state title when they defeated Ashdown to take the 3A championship played in Hot Springs.
And yes, the Allens were there in attendance when Paris claimed the trophy for the fourth straight season.
Ironically, it was actually Allen’s wife who gravitated toward volleyball, and Bently began to follow the sport as well.
“She got involved with girls volleyball,” Allen said. “Last year, when we came to the state tournament she said, ‘Are we going to Hot Springs?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think we will try to make that.’
“She said, ‘Well, I’m going, you can go or not but I’m going,’ so we went of course.”
But Bently Allen still remembers the days when Paris was in the process of putting together a competitive volleyball program, before the titles and before the glory.
“I remember the former coach, Wes Davis, and they asked him what did he know about volleyball,” Allen said. “He said, ‘Well, I know they have a ball and a net,’ and I have ended up seeing it evolve from that to where it is today.
“I don’t know how many girls are involved in it but we go places and we’ve got more girls at least on the bench than anyone that I’ve seen, and the girls, that’s what they want to play. They want to play volleyball.”
Davis led the Lady Eagles to three straight state titles from 2015-17 before leaving to take over as coach at Greenbrier. But his former assistant and former standout Lady Eagle player, Jordan Devine, took over as coach and was on the sidelines when the Lady Eagles won it all again on Saturday.
Bently Allen grew up in Guy, near Conway, and played baseball and basketball.
One of his cousins was Don Kessinger, a former Major League Baseball shortstop who later briefly became a manager. Allen remembers visiting his cousin on a regular basis and the two would play baseball together.
Allen eventually found his calling as a teacher. He arrived in Paris in 1958 as a seventh-grade math and science teacher and, in his words, “just stayed.”
And he really had no interest in going anyplace else.
“I really didn’t because I fell in love with the town of Paris and they were good to me and I tried to be good to them,” Allen said.
Eventually, Allen would spend nearly 30 of those years teaching high school math. He also coached every sport offered in junior high.
Allen tried to retire three different times but missed teaching. In fact, he returned to teaching for three years at nearby Subiaco Academy.
Though he’s totally retired now, Allen still has time for plenty of activities.
He still goes to the local Boys and Girls Club and serves as a tutor in the afternoons following school. That’s another passion Allen has.
“I helped organize it back in the ’60s and was director of it for 12 years,” Allen said.
“My wife and I volunteer, like (earlier this week), we volunteered at the Community Outreach Services and we’re involved with our church’s activities and the programs they have there (the Allens attend First Baptist Church in Paris, where Carolyn serves as the church’s longtime organist). And when they have an athletic event, we’re going to be there.”
Allen remembers when he first started teaching, the only girls sports offered were basketball and track.
“I’ve seen it evolve from beginning down in those lower grades to the high school (level) where girls have the opportunity now to participate in volleyball, in track and in basketball. … We have a good participation with our girls program here,” Allen said.
Allen’s wife graduated from Arkansas Tech, which was a big rival of UCA back in the day.
“I went to UCA and she graduated from Arkansas Tech, and we got married and have two daughters and four grandkids that we dearly love, and the activities that they’re in, we’re going to be there, too,” Bently Allen said.
Allen is also a cancer survivor.
In 2011, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Several doctors told Allen he didn’t have much of a chance.
But he grew up being very competitive, especially when it came to playing sports. He was going to find a way to beat cancer.
A total of 42 radiation treatments later, Allen did just that.
“I’m still here,” he said.
“I’ve tried to stay involved in the community activities, and I’ve been blessed beyond measure. I went through a bout with cancer, so I’ve just been blessed; I’ve had more honors than I could ever live up to here in the community and I try to give back to the community.”